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Balancing Sustainable Development, Anti-Imperialism, and Economic Growth: Is it Possible?

COP27 was hosted in Egypt this year, and in light of this, many have dubbed this year’s climate conference “The African COP”. COP is a series of conferences that serve as a platform for global leaders and influencers to gather and address climate concerns. However, because this year’s conference is set in Africa, there has been quite a bit of talk about the region's role in climate justice in the future. While encouraging sustainable development in African countries seems a progressive and worthy goal, industrial and colonial history may prove otherwise.

Contemporary superpowers have set a precedent for industrialisation: a precedent for pollution and environmental destruction. Though the consequences of the industrial revolution were unknown at the time, the effects of that development have quickly become known. This revelation resulted in a worldwide push to mitigate the effects of climate change through methods such as the COP climate change summits. Industrial development is an effective and efficient way to increase production and economic well-being, but the movement for environmental protection is obstructing the path of the most efficient industrialization method for third-world countries.

However, industrialisation of developing countries, put bluntly, is not something the global community can afford. The UN’s IPCC released a study stating that emissions must peak “before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43 per cent by 2030”. This is not to say that developing countries must stop developing; in fact, the opposite is true. The misallocation of resources that exists right now in the global market because of the lack of progress in developing countries alone is enough of a reason to support development in third-world countries. The ethicality of restricting development in these countries makes for an even more convincing case to relieve restrictions on development.

Considering industrialisation at the expense of the environment is the reason that many influential states hold the power that they have today, including the United States, China, and the United Kingdom. To allow them to make declarations to restrict industrialization in the name of the environment is to subscribe to a culture of bureaucratic hypocrisy. Because modern, industrialised superpowers are to blame for the current state of the climate, they should be held responsible for making sustainable development a viable option for developing countries. Unfortunately, this endeavour is easier written than executed. Considering the history of colonialism in many developing countries, enacting sustainable development programs designed and backed by western countries reintroduces dangerous power dynamics into the global community.

So, this is the issue: the conflict between economies, imperial ethicality, and sustainability. It is clear that climate change is an indisputable pursuit at the moment, and western countries are the states with the facilities to address that problem.

At COP27, Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, referenced the imbalance of interest rates awarded to the global north versus the global south. While more developed countries receive rates as low as 1%, southern and less developed countries can be awarded rates as high as 14%. Taking loans from international funds provided by organisations like NATO and the United Nations is one of the best ways to allocate funds to developing countries without imposing serious imperial restrictions on their spending of that money. The disparity of interest rates turns these loans from opportunities for developing countries into economic death sentences.

To curb the threat of unequal opportunity that arises with the imposition of sustainable development practices in the global south, global organisations must call upon the developed world. These are states that have over exploited their fair share of resources to develop, and requesting they contribute funds to lower interest rates to avoid laying burden upon lending organisations is the best and fairest way to pave the way for developing countries to develop.

It is possible to reconcile the conflicting interests of equality of opportunity, sustainability, and sovereignty, but only when developed countries take the initiative. African countries should not be held exclusively accountable for their own sustainability and developing countries in that region should not be viewed as a treasure trove, or “the key” to solving climate issues.


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